Two weeks ago I found myself in the backwoods of rural Florida standing in front of a bronzed bust of the pagan idol Baphomet. A few days later it would be attached to its eight-and-a-half-foot cloven-hoofed body and put to rest on a throne flanked on either side by a small metallic child. Eventually, its creators hope, it will be whisked away to Oklahoma, where it will be placed next to a Ten Commandments monument on the front lawn of the state capitol.
I had come to this foundry in the middle of the sticks with Lucien Greaves, the spokesperson for the Satanic Temple, the group behind the monument. The last time I saw it was in a small Brooklyn studio in April, when it was still being formed out of clay by Mark Porter, an artist trained in classical sculpture. Now, seven months later, it's almost finished.
Before this trip I had been under the impression that bronze sculptures were created with a giant crane that dipped the work whole into a vat of molten bronze like a piece of bread into a fondue bowl. That's not the case. The work is cut into many pieces, each of which is bronzed separately before being welded back together. When we arrived, different parts of the sculpture lay scattered across the property. The bust sat on a wooden table inside a sort of open-air shed, while the torso rested nearby on a smaller table. The hooves and arms were splayed out on the ground nearby. The following day, Porter, along with two other men, would begin the arduous process of welding the disparate pieces together to create a smooth, fluid sculpture meant to serve as a testament to the equal representation of all religions under United States law.
While it's not yet finished, the below images should give you an idea of what these guys are working with:
Oklahoma is far from the only state with a religious monument—or even a Ten Commandments monument—on government property. In fact, there's even a handy website that maps them all out for you. So why did the Satanic Temple choose Oklahoma?
"They specifically made statements that this location was to be a monument park," Greaves told me. "They didn't put it in exactly those words, but that was the legal rhetoric that they instituted to justify it and pretend there was constitutional standing for it, and that was just a breach of the [First Amendment's] establishment clause. They set the perfect groundwork for us."
Oklahoma State Representative Mike Ritze set that groundwork in 2012 when he paid for the Ten Commandments monument and its installation with money out of his own pocket. Because he paid for the Commandments himself, it was classified as a donation and allowed to be placed on government property.
The Temple has been largely ignored by members of the Oklahoma government, so on July 30 they decided to file a Freedom of Information Act request for documents relating to the installation of the Baphomet statue. "I feel strongly that we didn't receive all the documents we should have," Greaves told me. "It seems highly unlikely to me that their files consist entirely of citizen letters opposed to the monument with almost no communication with government officials as to where they stand on it." The Temple even had proof that at least one of the documents was withheld, according to Greaves, in the form of a registered letter the Satanic Temple had sent to the Capital Preservation Commission. "We had gotten the notice that they'd received it," Greaves said. Yet "that was not included in their file of communications regarding the Satanic Temple monument request." After an appeal, the Capital Preservation Commission produced a copy of the letter.
Of course, all of this talk of installing the statue in Oklahoma is contingent on the Ten Commandments monument being rebuilt after a drunk guy who heard voices in his head pissed on the slab before smashing his car into it last October. If it's not rebuilt, the Temple will stop trying to put Baphomet on the statehouse yard.
According to Greaves, the existence of the Ten Commandments statue is essential to his organization's goals with this project. The Baphomet is "part man, part animal, points above, points below, the legs are crossed, upright pentagram on head, inverse pentagram behind the head, and the Caduceus on the lap representing balance and reconciliation," he said. "The message behind Baphoment is a reconciliation of the opposites, not this call to arms of one against one but a merging of the two. That's part of the reason that it can only exist standing next to the Ten Commandments. That's part of the message. We wouldn't want to proselytize as a single voice in the public square."
Luckily for the Temple, it seems as though the Commandments are on track to be rebuilt. Representative Mike Ritze, whose voicemail ends with "Have a great day in the Lord!" told VICE that he has already raised the money to rebuild the Commandments monument and plans to have it reinstalled at an undisclosed date. When asked how the money was raised, he responded, simply, "private."
When I broke this news to Greaves this week via email, he replied:
Everything is now in place for the battle ahead. This isn't a mere petty fight that exploits a legal loophole. The forthcoming battle for Oklahoma cuts to the heart of how we conceive of our rights as American citizens, how we interpret and respect our constitutional values of plurality and individual freedom. However this case is ultimately decided, it will have deep and lasting ramifications for generations to come. This monument of Baphomet will hereafter be recognized as a central icon for the continually growing populations of Satanists, secularists, and advocates for individual liberty who refuse to bow to the arbitrary authority of archaic edicts, and refuse to accept their marginalization at the hands of thinly veiled theocrats. We look forward to arranging with Oklahoma a date on which we may erect and unveil Baphomet, where it will stand in honor of the unjustly accused, the slandered minority, the maligned outgroups, so that we might pay respect to their memory and celebrate our progress as a pluralistic nation founded on secular law.
While the Baphomet is the Temple's most high-profile project to date, they are constantly working on other community-oriented projects, such as a Satanic holiday display that will be installed in the Florida State Capitol's rotunda near a Nativity scene. Then there's the Satanic coloring book, set to be distributed, along with Bibles donated by the Christian group World Changers of Florida, to students in the Orange County School District in January. And in July, the Temple used the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling in an ongoing effort to gain legal exemption to informed consent laws for women who want an abortion but don't want to be given a bunch of scientifically unsound literature.
Those very public projects, as well as others, have led some to accuse the Temple of being media whores performing stunts to get attention. "Well of course!" Greaves says. "You need media to bring attention to these issues. If we're going to do a public prayer, we want to do it in a place like the town of Greece where it's a Supreme Court battle. We don't want to keep this secret. We want it high-profile."
EDIT 12/12: An earlier version of this article referred to pieces of the statue as weighing 4 million pounds. That was an exaggeration. They are very heavy, but not THAT heavy.
For more on the Satanic Temple, visit their website.
Follow Jonathan Smith on Twitter.